Mountains, 2016

When visitors first see this large painting from a distance, they see a mountain flanked by a stretch of water from which bits of land emerge. No information is given about the place featured here: this arid land lined with metalcolored water under an evenly grey sky could be anywhere in the world. It’s only when getting closer that the viewer realizes it is a fake landscape. Luc Tuymans composed it with aluminum foil and soil, inspired, he said, by his observations of reflections on water during a train journey. The title Mountains contrasts with the image. Mountains are by nature colossal, testament to the phenomenal forces that shape the earth, but this mountain is nothing of the kind. It is not grand, nor solid as a rock; on the contrary, it looks as if it could crumble and it is partially hollowed. To the ‘mountains’ in plural of the title, which would signal some spectacular range such as the Alps or the Rockies, corresponds a poor, little, crumbling mountain set in a bare landscape devoid of life and direct light. “What is representation?” Luc Tuymans seems to ask by placing us in front of an image of an artificial arrangement made with next to nothing, a bit of aluminum foil and a few handfuls of dirt. Is it the representation of a mental landscape, a mountain that only exists in the artist’s mind? Is it then less real? No, answers Tuymans, since this frail mountain does exist in front of our eyes. Mountains is the opposite of the magnificent landscapes often shown in advertising, which reassure us, 21st century urbanites, about the existence of nature. The painting seems to alert us about our disconnection from nature and the real risk of its cataclysmic depletion.